Cowboys' celebration penalty leads to painful loss

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Jason Witten scored a touchdown and handed the football to Marc Colombo so the burly offensive lineman could spike it. Then they leaped and bumped chests, with Colombo losing his balance on the landing and tumbling across the end zone.

Pretty silly, eh?

TITANS 34
COWBOYS 27

The Tennessee Titans will be laughing about it for a long time.

A penalty for excessive celebration pushed back the kickoff and Tennessee's Marc Mariani followed with a long return, setting up a 1-yard touchdown run by Chris Johnson with 3:28 left in the fourth quarter.

That gave the Titans a 34-27 victory against the Dallas Cowboys in a game they were struggling to put away.

"That misconduct penalty was big," Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said. "That return probably doesn't happen if they're not kicking off down there [on their 15]."

The Titans (3-2) did plenty of things right, like Johnson running for 131 yards, Vince Young throwing two touchdown passes and the defense coming up with six sacks and three interceptions.

But this game will be remembered for all the things Dallas did wrong : 12 penalties (two by Mike Jenkins for pass interference leading to a Tennessee touchdown on the opening drive; a hands-to-the-face that erased a punt-forcing sack on another touchdown drive) and all those sacks against Romo, who'd gone down only once in 128 attempts coming in.

There were three sacks on one drive in the second quarter, forcing right guard Leonard Davis to the bench -- until his backup got a finger in the eye.

The costliest sack was a 6-yarder on a third down that pushed a field-goal attempt back to 44 yards; David Buehler narrowly missed when a make would've put Dallas ahead.

Instead, the Cowboys (1-3) are off to their worst start since being 0-4 in 2001. Just when they thought they'd revived hopes of playing in the Super Bowl at home because of an impressive victory followed by a bye, this game showed what a mess this club is. Each unit can look at the other and say, "What happened?!"

"It was an exasperating game," coach Wade Phillips said. "It looked like we had turned a corner, then it went the other way on us. ... I don't have any qualms about our heart, but our execution needs to be better."

Romo was terrific at times, repeatedly hitting Miles Austin for crucial plays such as a 69-yard touchdown that tied it at 17. Austin snatched the ball between two defenders at the 44 and strolled into the end zone when the Titans collided and fell.

"It was just a freak accident," Tennessee safety Michael Griffin said. "I wish Miles was the meat in between our sandwich."

Griffin got payback by hauling in one of two tipped-pass interceptions, his coming in the end zone to snuff what would've been a 91-yard drive for Dallas. The other was a biggie: at the Dallas 13 and returned to the 1, setting up a touchdown from Johnson that put Tennessee up 27-20 with 7:26 left.

Romo answered with the touchdown to Witten, followed by all that wackiness. His final pass was his third interception -- right into the chest of linebacker Stephen Tulloch.

"You want guys to celebrate, but not get celebration penalties," Phillips said.

"This is very hard to swallow right now," said Romo, who was 31 of 46 for 406 yards with three touchdowns. "If you're a good enough ballclub, you have to be able to overcome [mistakes]. We haven't been able to."



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